March 21, 2009 at 03:24 PM EDT

So it turns out, Joss Whedon is operating at a different speed than most current makers and consumers of TV. At a time when everyone wants to make snap judgments of new shows, and when television content creators feel pressure to make their concepts immediately understandable/irresistible, Whedon chose to lull us into thinking Dollhouse was going to remain a series about Eliza Dushku looking as though someone had hit her over the head with a shovel every week whenever she wasn’t dolled up like a boy-toy having ferocious sex with a “client.”

For weeks, that’s how it’s been. Last night, however, we were reminded of all those interviews Whedon and Dushku did leading up to Dollhouse‘s premiere, where they kept talking about “gender roles” and how Joss felt most comfortable working with women, and how this series was going stretch Dushku’s talents.

Finally, much of this stuff came into play. The dolls were “all broken,” in the words of Dushku/Echo’s handler, Boyd. Sierra, it was initially implied, had been raped, or at least had sex that frightened her, with the “Active” Victor. (Though it turned out the real villain in that regard was someone else.) In the course of telling a Dollhouse-standard story of a rich client — in this case, Patton Oswalt as a tech-wealthy lonely-guy who dreams of returning to the  middle-class married suburban life he had and lost — this episode reveals more than we ever have known about Echo’s true identity, Caroline. We’ve glimpsed her before, in pre-Dollhouse days, on a college campus, and know that she came to the Dollhouse of her own free will. And now, she vows with Buffy-like resolve, “I have to take down the Dollhouse.”

This, despite admissions by Dollhouse employees that “we’re in the business of using people” and derisive remarks about Echo and her ilk being “stoned foxes with no will-power… running around naked.” A far more sinister aspect to the Dollhouse has now been established. So it went outside the Dollhouse as well, with FBI agent Ballard engaging in some wonderfully choreographed fight scenes, and the deepening knowledge that the neighbor who has a crush on Ballard, Mellie, is also a butt-kicking Active — a “sleeper agent” who sure came to life last night.

Last night there was a lot of prime Whedon dialogue, such as when Oswalt’s character tells Ballard a judge will “throw the Kindle at you” if the agent tried to arrest him. We learned that there are “over 20” Dollhouses besides this L.A. one.

I’ve seen next week’s episode, and the reveals only increase. I’m not sure if, at this point, Dollhouse can increase the audience it failed to attract after its initial weeks, but I know I’m along for the rest of the ride.

Are you?

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